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Big Surprise in Iran:        The Reformist Camp Is Alive and Well

Israel, Walla! News

By Prof. David Menashri

The election results clearly testify to a political earthquake having huge implications, even irrespective of the extent of the President-elect's ability to bring about some actual change in Iran's policy.


Translated by Viktoria Lymar

Edited by Steven Stenzler


15 June 2013



After the victory announcement: vast support for Rouhani speaks to the awakening of the “Greens,” who avoided last minute abstention – and that this time, votes are probably really being counted.

A big surprise, and even a political earthquake for real – that's definitely how the results of the Iranian presidential elections can be referred to: about 51 percent of the votes went to the more moderate candidate among the six competitors, Hassan Rouhani; only about 17 percent to the second-place candidate, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the conservative who looked on the eve of the elections as a frontrunner.

The Greens Have United the Ranks

There’s no doubt that the political system in Iran is different from what we know in the world. The fact that in an obviously non-democratic regime, we have no idea in advance who's going to win just a few days before the election, is not accepted in the world nonetheless, it is repeating itself over and over again in Iran (see the election of Khatami in 1997, of Ahmadinejad in 2005 and his "renewed election" in 2009). Also the fact that there was a substantive discussion between the candidates, including three rounds of televised "debate" – where there took place even a dispute on the issues of the attitude to the U.S. and the policy on the question of the nuclear negotiations – creates the appearance of elections from other districts. It seems that even if the regime has not changed, it's hard for it to ignore the lessons of the 2009 elections and the "Arab Spring" of 2011.

Judging from the manner of conducting the current elections so far, it looks like the regime was deterred from repetition of the farce of 2009, for fear of public outrage. Although the rule restricted numerous candidates (including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani), and numerous candidates had been disqualified by the Guardian Council (merely eight out of 686 candidates had been approved to contend, and merely six actually contended) and still, the candidate considered the closest to the reformist position is raking in such a great deal of votes. This figure, along with the fact that in contrast to 2009, it took much longer to count the votes – suggests that maybe, this time, they are indeed counting the votes, and examining the results and ways of dealing with them.

And what are the implications of these results? The scope of the voting for Rouhani (regardless of the actual degree of his moderation) indicates that the camp of the supporters of reform, mourned by many only yesterday, is alive and breathing. Unlike conservatives, who put up five candidates on election day (with a varying level of extreme of each of them), more pragmatic circles eventually coalesced around a single candidate. While the most moderate candidate (Mohammad Reza Aref) quit at the last minute, the camp – headed by two former presidents, Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami – remained cohesive. It is a refreshing novelty in terms of the reform circles, which usually stayed divided, and many among them have declared that they would boycott the elections altogether.

Back to the Days of Khatami?

Indeed, the pragmatic-reformists circles – were faced with a dilemma on the election eve: it was clear that the regime would see any vote at the polls, no matter who it’s given to, as evidence of its robustness; on the opposite, abstention from voting was to weaken the reformist camp. It appears that in the end, more and more became convinced on the very eve of the election to go out and vote. This is not the first time when a new trend is gaining momentum right around the opening of the polls – a phenomenon well-known to the Israeli public.


The results clearly testify to a political earthquake having huge ramifications – even irrespective of the measure of the President-elect's ability to bring about some real change in Iran's policy – whether in the domestic and economic fields, or in the foreign and nuclear policies. It’s too early to say which way Rouhani will lead Iran, and to what extent the regime will allow him to realize his plans, but one thing is clear: since he signaled during the campaign his willingness to initiate change (also in the context of foreign relations), and given the identity of his camp leaders (Rafsanjani and Khatami) and his sources of power (mainly, the young people) – after all, the extensive vote he won is indicative of the atmosphere: that was a protest vote against the policy of the outgoing president who had apparently also expressed criticism toward the supreme leader.

The results are also indicative of certain limitations on the power of the regime, that in light of the lessons of 2009 and 2011 it cannot do as it pleases with the election results and take blunt steps to influence its outcome. Despite this, it's important to clarify that most of the constitutional and practical power of Iran is in the hands of Khamenei and his associates, and they have at their disposal means to contain and limit a Rouhani style president – as they knew how to do so in the days of the previous reformist president, Khatami, whose election had raised many a hope, yet at the end of the day, he didn’t lead to far-reaching changes. However, one can't disregard such a mass of voters who chose to support the least establishment candidate of the six. These certainly expect that this time, there will be given some answer to their cravings, and the establishment won’t be able to turn a blind eye on that.

The results undoubtedly point to a growing dissatisfaction with the situation in Iran – chiefly, in two areas: those socio-economic (unemployment, inflation and so on and so forth) and political (primarily, lack of freedom and rights). These remain the major challenges facing the new president, whoever he may be, and the obvious difficulties facing the Islamic regime in Iran.

Guest Article: The author is Professor David Menashri, Iran expert, President of the Academic Center for Law and Business, Ramat Gan, Israel and Professor Emeritus at Tel Aviv University




Original Hebrew article: 


Photo credit: Reuters/Iranian websites -

Image posted on social media sites, called by the Iranians the “new version” of the Green Movement - featuring the words “We Won” on a green backdrop laced with a purple border. (Purple was the color of the 2013 Rouhani campaign);

Sign in Persian at a Tehran demonstration reading “Neda, your chair is empty” – or “Neda, wish you were here with us;” 


Rouhani Twitter account/Uskowi on Iran